Book Review: Be Careful What You Wish For

Jeffrey Archer

Volume Four of the Clifton Chronicle Series by Jeffrey Archer, Be Careful What You Wish For, is another book that ends with a cliff hanger and the promise of a sequel. Having read the first two books of this series and missing the third did not make much difference to my understanding of the story line and you can bank on that as well. That is the best part and sadly, hardly anything else seems to be impressing.

The plot has been stretched over four books now and seems to be turning into a never ending story line. The style is repetitive and reminds you of the last couple of books penned by Jeffrey Archer.

The story revolves around the Barringtons and the Cliftons(obviously) and is written from the perspective of 7 characters. It is straight with little twists and the most of the story talks about the attempts of the villain (Don Pedro Martinez) to destroy the Barringtons and Cliftons (quite literally at times). Most of them seem successful and not until the very end does the “good” side catch up (for a while). The climax ends on a rather abrupt note, like always. A new character introduced, something extremely surprising or violent happens and full stop.

Harry Clifton finds something odd towards the end and the next version might or might not revolve around such clues we collect as we turn the detective mode on by the end of the book.

Reading a Jeffrey Archer novel has turned out to be guilty pleasure that an unstoppable adrenaline rush. Read the title once again and probably that will stop your expectations from reaching too high.

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The Corporate. The Society. The Responsibility

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
Mark Twain

The Companies Act Amendment 2009 made mandatory, the involvement of every corporate in uplifting the society thus, increasing the already high levels of hype and importance to the words “Corporate Social Responsibility”.

What exactly is CSR?

Technically speaking, it is a channel which the government is creating for every company to pay back to the society. “Pay Back” can be done by spending some of the profits the company makes to those parts of the society that need the help. Few companies choose to do it independently and few go through NGOs or other charitable trusts. A very well devised scheme and beautifully nurtured idea, its aim is to try and ensure the poor don’t get poorer.

The steel plant in Vishakapatnam, Andhra Pradesh adopted a village, Reliance Industries did something akin, Hindustan Unilever limited had a health awareness campaign and the list goes on. Speaking from the moral or humanitarian perspective, it is THE kind of a step that a country like ours needs. People in need cannot wait for a policy to strike the legislature, cross the executive and finally be passed before the judiciary can lay its hands on it, and make it invisible for a couple more decades. The rich don’t have much to lose, but the gain at the other end is more than one can imagine. What is 50 lakhs to a company like HUL with a gross turnover 3000 crores per annum? In lay mans words, peanuts. It’s a win-win situation, you may call it.

Looking from the business point of view, well, this is just not business. Spending a part of your profit, for the benefit of an else is a violation of the very basic rules in this game of money. Calling CSR an initiative to increase the brand value of a product is just a farce.

Making something like this mandatory will only make it a burden which will nullify the desired effect this policy aims at. CSR is where one needs to pay more attention to the value you get and not the price you pay for it.

It has always been the case that one new step taken and the rest of the world follows, clones the idea and repeats it. CSR has become the new rage in the same way. Understanding what is right for CSR and what will sell as CSR is the thin line that does the quality assurance. When the whole world is looking in the same direction, it is your perspective that has to stand out.

Technicality aside, Responsibility is not an act that can be performed but it is a state of being. Being Responsible towards the society does not have to involve sharing your hard earned money or setting up a school or adopting a village. It can be something as small as giving a lift to an old lady in your cab, sharing your lunch when you are the cook, giving away a free umbrella from your store or teaching your maids child. It cannot be judged as wrong or right, just effective or not. You cannot state its pros and cons, profits or loss because at the end of the day, it is the good will behind the motive that matters.

 

 

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A take on the Hindu Mythology- The Mahabharata

Mahabharata

The Mahabharata- the great Indian Epic, the all-encompassing tale with a plethora of perceptions under its name, is considered to be on par with the four Great Vedas. The fable that is said to have taken place in the Dwapar Yuga, the time with half virtue and half evil, unveils a deeper and greater meaning as we delve into its secrets.

Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu emerged on the Earth free from the chains of being a fair, just, humble King Rama was (His seventh incarnation). He was a crafty idol who found an answer that satisfied the situation and manipulated the minds. Such was the necessity of the time with Evil prevalent in the world like never before. In this light, I point to the flaws of each Pandava and their wife Draupadi and how they were human after all, and not any better than their supposedly darker side of the family- The Kauravas.

The Pandavas Road to Hell.

 

No, I’m not making up a fictitious story to suit my argument and sending the Oh-so-righteous Pandavas to hell on the way. It is a true but not quiet known fact that the Pandavas went to Hell while the Kauravas reached the abode of heaven safely.

King Kuru, the great ancestor of the Kauravas and Pandavas ploughed the fields of the Kurukshetra and spent his heart and soul into energizing the land. The mightily impressed Devas granted him a wish. Every warrior who dies fighting on the battlefield will reach Heaven, they declared according to his request. That explains the part of the Kauravas going to Heaven.

The five heroes of the Epic along with their wife began their ascent to Mount Meru and on after the other fell off the cliff into the arms of death and thus, Hell. Draupadi led the way. She preferred Arjuna over the other Pandavas, a believable and acceptable sin. What is worse is that she secretly desired Karna which increased double fold after her knowledge of his Kshatriya lineage.

She was followed by Sahadeva for his pride in his knowledge and Nakula for his narcissism. (The two brother’s whose activities are not very well known to us owing to the dominance of their step mother. More on this, later)

Then comes Arjuna, the man had the unforgivable feelings of envy, the want to destroy anything more of a master than him and a pride in his charm to even forget the names of his wives. Bhima went next as he was, subtly putting it, a glutton.

The one person who is the reason behind all the misery, Yudishtira, reached heaven only with his baggage of being technically right. God Himself (Krishna) agreed to face death in the hands of a petty archer and Dharmaraj was forgiven for his obsession with gambling and using his wife and brothers as stake.

Not an equation that balances. This just proves the fact that Good and Evil were just marked by a powerful, clever God to restore peace in the chaotic world. The reasons were just made to justify to the ignorant but the plan is understood only when seen from the larger picture and not under a microscope. Just like we assume a few constants, ignore a few minute deviations and errors, and approximate in the most probable region to reach the destination.

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Creative Advertising

With Apple celebrating 30 years of “magical” technology, let’s take a peek into the one thing this company has always done best- Advertising. The brand that continues to awe-inspire its consumers and competitors alike has stated to the world, the core of creative advertising through the simplest and most effective of campaigns- “Think Different”

Advertising is above the clutches of popular stars, hard cash and boardroom tables. It is the purity of thought and idea that brings out new perspective to the products we see. With the number of products on a constant rise, making a creative advertisement or publicity campaign has become all the more important. Making an advertisement involves keeping in mind the geography, demography, beliefs of the people in the area and sometimes none of the above. An ad can be for a particular age, area or even better, made for all. It’s not a stroke of luck to come up with a good ad but a stroke of brilliance. That stroke can be just picture, a person or a word.

 

The ad is for Penguin audio books and what is better than Shakespeare be you’re your headphone!

On the contrary, Pepsi launched the “Youngistaan” campaign and the “Oye Bubbly” track which became tremendous success. Though not extremely simple, it is a great way to advertise in a country like India with Bollywood loving people.

Apart from the ads for products, the government and various social welfare organizations have taken a step to reach out to the ignorant and deaf audience by appealing just to their guilty conscience. It makes an impact with the least amount of energy spent and as we all learn, that’s an art to be mastered.

 

Then come the advertisements that have the perfect timing. If the concept works like the mind, logically, the timing and presentation work emotionally and drive the nail home.When every other computer in the world was crashing down at the millennium, all Apple had to say for its Mac was

“We might not get everything right, but at least we knew the century was going to end”

Creativity has a twin, stupidity. Sometimes the most funny or eye-catching ads have been made just by portraying a slightly less creative and more stupid poster.

 

It may not have gotten your critical acclaim but it definitely caught your eye and the purpose was thus, served!

And as a closure to this view into creative advertising, here is an example to show that at the end of the day everyone takes their step at advertising.

Even a Funeral Service!

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Looking Up and Living Up

65 years ago around this time, we declared ourselves to be more than just technically independent from colonial rule. Some of the greatest minds of our country successfully drafted a set of principles for sustainable governance of a democratic nation. Basically, the people we looked up to, set a standard for us to live up to.

With the words “Aam Aadmi” being the most trending topic these days, let’s take a closer look at the sudden increase in respect for broomsticks and khaki caps. There they were, in the second page of second page of “The Hindu” quietly contesting and gaining some support. They were looking up to the position of ultimate power and here they are, making headlines every single day. Probably in a position they did not see themselves attain in such a flash. Suddenly their position on the fragile see saw that needs to be kept in balance is swapped. They are being looked up to now, and they have an expectation to live up to.

What is setting an example? Why is it always simpler to follow?

The former President of India, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam was a man who took blame for his team’s failure but gave credit to his team at the time of success. It probably takes that kind of a mindset to be able to understand the meaning of the term “responsibility”. Steve Jobs stuck to his principles even in times of crisis and saved the Apple from the brink of disaster, it takes a brave heart to defy popular opinion and “live up” to what you want to be and what you want your team to see you as. Living up, not to fill someone’s shoes, but to fill that void which you saw as you looked up from the bottom, to portray your idea of perfection.

“We all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks but the leisure of our daily work” said Neil Armstrong. People look up to you in those moments of leisure. It is those small moments that made good men extraordinary leaders. Looking up is just a start, living up to yourself is what has the capability to outlive you.

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Winnie The Pooh

winnie the pooh 1

“I’m not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.”

The one place we all loved to get lost in was the 100 acre wood- the land of Winnie The Pooh. The bear who loves honey was a part and parcel of everyone’s bookshelf and toy shelf. As we celebrate the 130th anniversary of Alan Alexander Milne this year, I can’t help but look back at his most popularly received work, the Pooh bear. He has made an attempt, a very successful one at that, to impart values that will help us see life in different perspectives through the yellow big fat bear.

“People say nothing is impossible. But I do nothing every day.”

According to Winnie The Pooh today is synonymous with his favorite day and “What’s going to be exciting today” is the same as saying “What’s for breakfast?” Winnie is a rather dull witted bear who is extremely warm hearted. He was happy with himself and considered his friends to be his greatest treasure. He always did all he could to turn his rather pessimistic friend Eeyore to a happy Donkey celebrating what he calls “The Pooh kind of day”.

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Ignorance may not always be bliss when your world is larger than a 100 acre forest, but when intelligence is getting you into more trouble something is definitely wrong with the way our system works. Named by Milne after the Teddy of his son (Winnie) and the swan they met during a summer vacation (Pooh) the name stuck I our heads, but unfortunately the character did not. Endangered are these qualities of kindness and self-satisfaction. It probably time we look back at those cartoons and remind ourselves the qualities we were taught to grow up with. “Think it over, Think it under.”

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Trends and Traditions

With the festivity in the air and celebration setting the mood of every neighborhood, the vibrant metamorphosis in the style of upholding traditions is hard to ignore. What we are is not a form dependent on a single variable but an entity that embodies the collective influence of the people, the customs and the principles built around us. Thus it becomes all the more necessary to uphold those traditions that are being passed down to us from generations molding them slightly to add your signature onto the rolling shield. That is probably what we are seeing today, a change, not in the basic form of the event but in the form of added facets and consequently derived perceptions.

Let us take for example, the festival of Harvest called “Pongal” by few and “Makara Sankranthi” by few others. This festival has a lot of rituals under its banner performed by different sections and parts of the nation. A display of dolls being one of them, it began for the purpose of decorating the house and since a rule works more effectively than a request, it stuck as a tradition to be followed. Today, with “why” and “what for”

coming into the not taboo category, people follow still follow this tradition but now, to depict something out of the arrangement and hence answering all the questions that arise. They turn every small idea into a beautiful artwork right from depicting the life of Lord Krishna from birth to the very end to rare stories from the two Epics-Ramayana and Mahabharata, from Panchatantra tales to the Aam Aadmi Party, from memories to morals, they add a touch of the present keeping the flavors of the past.

There is a fine line that divides a trend and a tradition. What is it then that sets a trend apart? Why do some trends stick close to us? The answer is in every tradition we keep today, they all began as trends and as apt as they were in the times in which they were born, they always have room for change, have new doors to see it in new light, they are all adaptable. Trends thus will remain to be a form of ugliness so intolerable that they need to be changed every six months or will move on to become traditions that will not be “kept” but celebrated like they were meant to be. 

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Bitcoins: The next big thing?

The hardest thing in the world is to understand income tax, or coming to think of it, money. We started off with the barter system, didn’t take us long to realize we need a standard of comparison for the various genre of products being exchanged. A commodity was picked, given a value and thus, became the means of trade. Money came into existence first as shells, then gold and silver; it saw itself taking the form of copper coins, then metal and final paper, well, something that looks similar to that. Man has always taken pride in his sense of reason and worked to take a step further. In the light of that aim came the first decentralized virtual currency “bitcoin”.

That’s a lot of new terms thrown at your face, I agree. You go into the shopping mall with literally nothing in your pockets but virtually, thousands. One click, a few details entered and done. Money is transferred into the other party’s virtual wallet. The money is time stamped and also has your signature over it. How is it any different from Net Banking? It does not acknowledge the presence of any centralized bank to facilitate this transfer. Its “Peer to Peer” or the P2P network unlike the conventional system of money which works center to people.

The concept of being decentralized is slightly more interesting than it seems. Every person who wants bitcoins has to “dig” them and this is called bitcoin mining. Programming geeks just created a string of code and let if function on its own creating a public network. This network is not handled by any third party and you can go, create yourself “an account” by loaning some of your computing power and storage space. You loan more space and write more code to sustain the network, the more you are paid in bitcoin.

Each miner solves something similar to a math problem and is paid back in bit coins. The more the number of miners, the more people approving of bitcoins the safer it is. Depending upon how easily the problems are solved its complexity keeps increasing. Graphics card, miners realized, was a more useful tool than normal programmer and later on, special chips (asic-Application Specific Integrated Circuit chips) began to come into production for the sake of bitcoin mining. Pool mining began because collective thoughts give more than a single mind.  Of course there is a certain limit of the amount of bitcoin that can be mined and just like all the money in the world adds up to a constant, the final amount of bitcoin will be less that 21 million.

The value of the bitcoin is variable depending upon the availability, import export, use in trade and other reason like the conventional fiat currency except for its more volatile nature. The value of bitcoin can change upto $200 in a single day. For example, China banned the usage of bitcoin and its value fell drastically. On the other hand, with a lot of media publicity about the bitcoins people began to invest again and its value escalated.

There are no charge backs or fees, it is free and thus freelancers, specially, take less time to get recognized. The bitcoin is doing what the internet did to the publishing industry. Allowing access to everyone.

It is more convenient, a bigger technology and the next big step in the history of the coins which have finally reached the 0’s and 1’s (bits) and has probably come to stay. Every new innovation comes with its set of side effects. In this case, the same old using it for the wrong purposes, easy way for fraud etc. But, not taking steps like these would mean stagnating the world of creativity. History and human ability has proved that its positive side pays back way more.

 

 

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Men of Might

There are more than a few instances when history has given us a fragmentary version of the people and their nature. Like in the previous article Genius and Madness, the success or failure of a leader’s plans tend to make an impact, a grave one at that, on his so called “image” that is portrayed to the generations that follow. It turns out, in the face of success shrewd nature, selfish motives, unjust behavior and other vices can be overlooked. This peculiar nature of History dates way back-begins with the Mahabharata and is carried down till date.

Let’s take a more recent example. Winston Churchill. The inspirational leader, an outstanding orator, the man who led the British Armies in times of need and got them back on the shore safely after the storms of the World War. There is no doubt that Winston Churchill was a class above normal human men when it came to his skills, be it politics or public speaking. But, there is a side of him that remains ignored.

He is on par with Adolf Hitler in the atrocities committed and easily makes it to a list of Top Ten worst military decisions ever taken. To begin with, he was a racist. He believed in employing tear gas against, putting it in his words, “uncivilized tribes”. He also preached that the Jews have forsaken the faith of their fathers and well, did not really consider them to be a dignified race of their own.

He was a great egoist and an extremely shrewd politician. He let the Covetry Cathedral burn just to protect his secret intelligence. It was in his reign that India saw the death 3 million of its own people. The emergency food shipments were used up by Churchill to build stockpiles for his men who would return tired from war.

He enjoyed stiff drinks and it is believed that he had one too many when he made the decision of invading Gallipolli. It was a perfect plan in theory but, the heat of the place, the lack of naval artillery support led to the loss of thousands of lives on both sides. The Allied forces were trapped for more than a month when they attacked what Churchill called “the soft underbelly of the central powers”.

Despite all this, there are qualities in this man one can admire and stop our admiration at that quality. Admiring men as a whole always tends to make room to overlook their flaws, defend their blunders and magnify their victories.

Though serious (and ruggedly handsome) he is in most of his recorded pictures, Churchill had a sense of humor. Probably a nice way to end an article pointing to his imperfections.

Lady Astor: “If you were my husband, I’d put arsenic in your coffee.”

Churchill: “Madam, if I were your husband, I’d drink it!”

 

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Genius and Madness

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who actually do, Steve Jobs said. Crazy, well, it can have more than one definition and accordingly the “change” that takes over the world will differ. There is the good change and the disaster, there is Genius and there is Madness. There is a fine line between the two and sometimes extreme levels of intelligence sophisticatedly chose to be ignorant of other varied perspectives leading the decision thus taken to be considered a catastrophe. Two such examples of such intelligence gone high on the Madness scale are Adolf Hitler and Mohammad Bin Tughluq.

They were extremely intelligent people who cannot be compared owing to the different timelines of their existence but, underwent the same course on the History text books and have become synonymous with sadism and stupidity respectively. Their ideas and ideologies were in some ways and in those times actually well thought of but poorly executed.

In case of Adolf Hitler, he is a man the world loves to hate. He killed thousands of Jews, he had the worst estimate of his opponents, and he committed suicide in the end when his men needed him. Look at it from another perspective, he is a man with his own idea of an ideal world, he is a man who believed in his mind completely, and that is a ray of sunshine at a time when everyone was filled with self-doubt and lacked confidence. He rose to power and woke up an entire nation, a sleeping nation, and gave them, in his words, “A faith to live by and a cause to die for”. How many such leaders can you find today, who for starters, have an ideal world to believe in and then, commit to it completely. He knew how the country thought, he hit them hard with sentiment and belief not knowledge or reason, and it worked better in that route; he united them by a common hatred and it did wonders. He knew the end he wanted to see, the resources that were required and the words to use, the flaws were huge yet, he is a leader who needs to be admired for his clarity of thought, command over human psychology an oratory abilities.

Mohammad Bin Tughluq, the wisest fool as some would call him, was a man well ahead of his times, always on the lookout for fresh new ideas. Today, we call that being creative and innovative. He was the first person to think of the concept of coins way back in the 14th century. He also came up with the idea of keeping record of all the state expenditure and income. Though he never went further ahead after recording the expenditure (reason for its failure) the idea is today, one of the most important means through which we recognize flaws in the system. He waagain, a man who considered himself to be above all, and to be the sole possessor of the powers to change and make laws of the State.

Two leaders, who have been under the microscope for quite some time for their weird genius and well known madness. This just implies that a man cannot be admired or despised completely, there is always that streak of intellect and charisma that is waiting to be admired, and you just have to choose to see it.

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